ABC to carry presidential debate

5:00 AM PST 03/21/2008 by Paul J. Gough, AP

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NEW YORK -- ABC has won the battle of the networks for the right to carry the next debate between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

ABC will televise a 90-minute debate between the two in primetime April 16, beginning live at 8 p.m. EDT on the East Coast and tape-delayed at 8 p.m. PDT for the West Coast. The debate, to be held at the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia six days before the Pennsylvania primary, will be moderated by "World News" anchor Charles Gibson and "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos.

Recent polls suggest that Clinton is slightly ahead of Obama in the Keystone State.

ABC News political director David Chalian said Thursday that the debate underscores the party's big decision about who has the best chance to capture the White House.

"Being down to two candidates will allow for them to have more time to work their way through all the issues that are still out there," he said.

The get by ABC caps a nearly monthlong battle between ABC and NBC after earlier debates with just Clinton and Obama earned monster ratings for CNN and MSNBC.

There were seven proposals before the campaigns for a debate before the April 22 primary. Both ABC and NBC had lobbied the Clinton and Obama campaigns, who eventually agreed to ABC's proposal to televise the debate on the broadcast network.

NBC, which so far has televised its debates on MSNBC, would have aired this debate on its broadcast network.

There is time between now and the end of the primaries for more debates. Unlike its rivals, CBS and anchor Katie Couric hasn't had a turn after the WGA strike canceled one in December in Los Angeles.

CBS has made proposals to the Clinton and Obama campaigns ahead of the North Carolina primary: two dates at the end of April and one in early May. It would be moderated by Couric and Bob Schieffer. The other networks also are working on debate dates.

April 16 holds meaning for many in the media-political sphere because it also is the night of the annual Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner. ABC said it was the only date available to hold the debate but added that it would have representation at the dinner.

"This was the date that worked the best," Chalian said.
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